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Not this time: No escaping 'Player of the Game' helmet for Eriksson Ek

Wild forward scores winning goal, plays complete game in Minnesota's win Saturday in Las Vegas

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

On Thursday night, goaltender Cam Talbot rewarded Joel Eriksson Ek with the team's 'Player of the Game' helmet, awarded after wins by the player who received it following the prior victory.

As far as we know, nobody has ever awarded it to themself, which is why Eriksson Ek turned around and gave the helmet right back to Talbot following his herculean 35-save effort in the shootout win.

This time around, Eriksson Ek wasn't escaping his goaltender's reward.

The Swedish centerman capped another fantastic two-way game by scoring the game-winning goal in the third period in a come-from-behind 2-1 victory for the Wild over the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena. 

Video: MIN@VGK: Eriksson Ek cleans up own rebound

"I told him it wasn't coming back to me and that he needed to keep it this time," Talbot said. 

Eriksson Ek also had a dandy of an assist on Kirill Kaprizov's power-play goal 55 seconds before his winner and led the Wild with six hits in the game, and for a second consecutive game, helped keep Vegas' big guns off the scoreboard entirely.

Tweet from @mnwild: OF COURSE IT WAS EKKER ���

"He just does so many of the little things that it takes to be successful in this League," Talbot said. "He just does them all right and he does them with intensity and he does them the right way. So for him to come out and have another big game the way he did last game when I tried to give him the bucket, to replicate that game and actually got even better, says a lot about him, his work ethic and his commitment to this team."

Video: MIN@VGK: Kaprizov puts home feed from Eriksson Ek

There's still a lot of hockey left, even in a truncated 56-game season, but the four points the Wild just took from the Golden Knights in Sin City have a chance to be perhaps the largest four it'll take from anyone between now and the end of the year.

Think about it.

Coming off consecutive losses against the San Jose Sharks, a team currently on the outside of the playoff precipice, playing without Marcus Foligno and Zach Parise (and on Saturday, without Mats Zuccarello), a trip to Las Vegas to play the red-hot Golden Knights had a chance to be a complete disaster.

Instead, the Wild straightened up, overcame some errors in a shootout win on Thursday, then played a much more complete effort in another comeback win Saturday.

"Clearly both games could have gone either way," said Wild coach Dean Evason. "But we stayed the course, we caught some breaks, caught a couple of bounces, timely power-play goals."

Evason, referencing the Al Pacino movie "Any Given Sunday," and Pacino's pre-game speech in the film referencing inches, said that was apropos.

"That's what that game was like," Evason said. "Every inch was a very difficult thing for both teams tonight and we were fortunate to catch a couple of breaks to come out on the right end."

Video: Dean Evason postgame at Vegas

Sitting inside the playoff bubble already, the wins aren't needed for any kind of "turning point," but they certainly can be looked at as a couple of statement wins for a team looking to solidify itself inside the West Division's top-4. 

At the very least, the victories did just that.

Minnesota, one of the best home-ice teams in the League this season, now heads back to the Twin Cities to play six of its next eight games at Xcel Energy Center riding some momentum away from home, too.

"But I don't think we hang our hat on this trip in the sense of, 'well we beat Vegas twice, we're all set,'" said Wild defenseman Ian Cole. "They're a great hockey team, we beat them twice, but the next time we play them, they're going to come out even harder. And we need to be ready for it.

"We need to keep growing as a team, obviously it's a great road trip ... but all that matters now is the next game and winning that game and the game after that and the game after that, and onward."

Video: Players postgame at Vegas

In addition to the Wild's confidence, another thing that's growing is the gulf between the top three teams in the West Division and the battle that is brewing for the fourth and final playoff spot.

Six points separate first-place Colorado and third-place Minnesota, which begin a two-game series on Monday night at Xcel Energy Center. Vegas is in second, two points ahead of the Wild.

Behind Minnesota, Arizona currently holds the fourth spot, but nine points currently separate the clubs. The Wild is 10 points clear of St. Louis, which has suddenly won just two of its past 10 games. 

Minnesota also has a game in hand on both teams.

That growing advantage with just 20 games remaining in the regular season highlights just how crucial the Wild's four points in Vegas was. 

"Every guy knew that we had a little bit more to give after those San Jose games," Talbot said. "We came in here and we got it done. Sometimes it's not always pretty, but tonight I thought was one of our more complete games of the season for sure.

"That was just a big character win [on Saturday] and two big wins coming into this building."


Postgame Hat Trick: Wild 2, Golden Knights 1

Video: Kaprizov, Eriksson Ek propel Wild to 2-1 win

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